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Saudi Arabia has announced that it will now issue permits to the commercial theatres, lifting a almost 35-year-old ban on cinema.

The Minister of Culture, Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, welcomed the measure as a strategic move in the economic diversification of the kingdom.

The initiative is the latest example of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman progressing Saudi Arabia into the 21st century through a wave of social legislation that includes allowing women to drive and approving music concerts.

Saudi Arabia's bold reforms have met opposition from hardliners, who believe movie theaters threaten the country's religious and cultural identity.

Theater-goers are expected to be lining up in March 2018 when movie houses will again be licensed. 32-year-old crown prince stated the goal of the program was to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities in the oil-dependent kingdom from 2.9% to 6% by 2030.

In a press statement, the Ministry of Culture and Information said that "The General Commission for Audiovisual Media, the official regulator of the sector, will begin preparing the steps of the necessary executive procedures to open cinema rooms in the Kingdom".

Like most public spaces in the Al-Saoud kingdom, movie theaters will have separate sections for men and women as well as a section for families. They argue it makes no sense to ban cinemas when movies today are readily available online.

"It's spectacular news. We are in a state of shock", said Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi actor and producer.

Saudi Arabia might also premiere Bollywood movies and Arabian movies, but only after censoring them. However, he has also arrested several clerics and activists and detained senior princes and businessmen in what the government calls an anti-corruption campaign.


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